The John Burroughs High School Vocal Music Association returned to the stage this past weekend as they performed their annual “Burroughs on Broadway” event on Oct. 22, Oct. 23, and Oct. 24.
The performances marked the 16th season of BOB, which was on hiatus from in-person viewing in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. Rather than returning to the VMA stage, the Broadway song and dance numbers of the show were performed outdoors in the JBHS quad area, which inspired the show’s theme, “Among the Stars.”
When the VMA team began planning this year’s BOB in May, they had no certainty as to whether or not the show would be able to carry on in the midst of the pandemic. As an outdoor event was eventually approved, numerous elements had to be addressed to ensure a secure performance, such as implementing a sound system compatible with the outdoors, developing a plan to preserve audio equipment, and facilitating an efficient routine for setup and takedown of show sets.
JBHS VMA Musical Director Brendan Jennings says the show’s impressive outcome can be attributed to the many generous contributors who made certain that all elements of the performances were prepared for a live audience. Producer Jessica Good, Master of Ceremonies Mick Torres, Lighting Designer Billy Yakes, the BOB Orchestra, and Sound Designer Zachary Eubanks were some of the many talented participants who helped make the show a success.
“Our tech crew, led by our brand new first-year tech director, Katrina Villareal, was just phenomenal,” Jennings said. “We could not have done this show without them. And then stepping towards figuring out lighting and figuring out the logistics of seating and all, it was pretty intense. But our team is just the best. Our producer, our director, our booster president, our choreographers… We have alumni parents who come back and help us with the technical aspects in the set building, and everybody just banded together and we made it happen.”
Each of the JBHS four award-winning choir groups, Powerhouse, Sound Sensations, Sound Waves, and Decibelles, participated in the event. Throughout two acts, ensemble music and choreography was performed from the songs of Broadway shows such as “Cabaret,” “Waitress,” “The Rocky Horror Show” and “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.”
Standout solo performances and numbers sung by small groups were also included in BOB. A charming arrangement of “When Words Fail” from “Shrek the Musical” was sung by Lincoln Melcher, and Isabella Rosoff executed a stunning rendition of “Cabaret.” In addition, Luther Burbank Starlight and Dolores Huerta Madrigals offered strong vocals as they sang numbers from “13 The Musical” during the first act of the show.
The music of BOB is largely conceived by VMA Director Jennifer Strattan, who then collaborates with Jennings to further decide which songs will be used and how many solo and ensemble performances will take place for the show. Once a song list is announced, open call auditions are held, which leads to further adjustments to create the perfect song list combination fit for the musical skills of VMA participants.
Along with BOB, three other annual events are held by the JBHS VMA: the Holiday Spectacular, Pop Show, and Spring Concert. Jennings and Strattan have already begun working on the 2021 Holiday Spectacular, which will have a unique mix of indoor and outdoor performances.
“This year, it’s called a progressive show, where the performers will actually be in different locations and the audience will move through the performances almost like a haunted house or a tour, and the audience will be in smaller time-scheduled slots,” Jennings said of the upcoming Holiday Spectacular. “So there will be about 18 different showtimes in the course of a weekend with smaller groups of audiences, and the audience actually moves through the school into different performance spaces.”
As well as providing entertainment to the Burbank community, BOB is a fundraising event that aids in financing VMA choir competition participation. Although Jennings says the group is not yet sure of how competitions will be conducted this year, the VMA team remains optimistic as they regain the thrilling experience of live performance that has been missing in the entertainment community for a year and a half.
“It just feels like a huge triumph,” Jennings said of returning to live performance. “We did tons of virtual shows and streaming and all kinds of things [during the pandemic], but when your audience isn’t there and you don’t get to experience their reaction, the payoff is just a lot less, I think, for the kids. So it was incredible to watch them rediscover that joy in live performance, and we were just happy to make it happen.”